Southern Sudan: UN Security Council praises referendum

Election officials empty ballot boxes in Juba. Photo: 15 January 2011
Image caption Observer reports said the referendum had been largely free, fair and credible

The UN Security Council has welcomed the mostly peaceful and orderly referendum in Southern Sudan that is widely expected to result in secession.

However, it also urged the north and south to resolve outstanding issues, including the disputed Abyei region.

The head of the UN mission to Sudan said recent tensions in Abyei, on the border between north and south, could lead to instability for months to come.

The Security Council also expressed concern about the violence in Darfur.

Clashes between rebels and government troops in the western region have displaced 40,000 people over the past month.

Diplomats are watching the dynamics closely, aware Khartoum fears that Southern independence may strengthen separatist tendencies in Darfur, reports the BBC's Barbara Plett at the UN's headquarters in New York.

Final settlement

At a meeting on Tuesday, members of the Security Council praised the conduct of the referendum in Southern Sudan, noting observer reports that it had been largely free, fair and credible.

"The people of Southern Sudan, after decades of war, and more than two million killed, have cast their votes peacefully, and expressed their will," said US permanent representative Susan Rice.

But they stressed the importance of resolving outstanding issues between the north and south in the next six months.

In particular, they voiced concerns about tensions in Abyei, urging leaders from both sides to agree on its status.

The UN special envoy to Sudan, Haile Menkarios, said deadly clashes between rival ethnic communities there - Misseriya Arab nomads from the north and pro-Southern Dinka Ngok - had been contained with an agreement reached by the Northern and Southern governments on Monday.

But Mr Menkarios also warned that the absence of a final settlement left open the possibility of further violence.

"These efforts for reducing tensions and preventing violence can contain the situation. However, the continued absence of a final settlement on the future of Abyei leaves open the possibility of further clashes between the communities," he told the Security Council.

The 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which ended two decades of civil war and mandated the referendum on Southern independence, expires in July.

Issues such as oil-wealth sharing, border demarcation, division of debt and questions of citizenship need to be resolved by then.

Security Council members urged the two sides to bring the same spirit to these negotiations as they brought to the referendum.

Map showing position of oilfileds in Sudan, source: Drilling info international

Both Sudan and the South are reliant on their oil revenues, which account for 98% of South Sudan's budget. But the two countries cannot agree how to divide the oil wealth of the former united state. Some 75% of the oil lies in the South but all the pipelines run north. It is feared that disputes over oil could lead the two neighbours to return to war.

Satellite image showing geography of Sudan, source: Nasa

Although they were united for many years, the two Sudans were always very different. The great divide is visible even from space, as this Nasa satellite image shows. The northern states are a blanket of desert, broken only by the fertile Nile corridor. South Sudan is covered by green swathes of grassland, swamps and tropical forest.

Map showing Ethnicity of Sudan, source:

Sudan's arid north is mainly home to Arabic-speaking Muslims. But in South Sudan there is no dominant culture. The Dinkas and the Nuers are the largest of more than 200 ethnic groups, each with its own languages and traditional beliefs, alongside Christianity and Islam.

Map showing infant Mortality in Sudan, source: Sudan household health survey 2006

The health inequalities in Sudan are illustrated by infant mortality rates. In South Sudan, one in 10 children die before their first birthday. Whereas in the more developed northern states, such as Gezira and White Nile, half of those children would be expected to survive.

Map showing percentage of households using improved water and sanitation in Sudan, source: Sudan household health survey 2006

The gulf in water resources between north and south is stark. In Khartoum, River Nile, and Gezira states, two-thirds of people have access to piped drinking water and pit latrines. In the south, boreholes and unprotected wells are the main drinking sources. More than 80% of southerners have no toilet facilities whatsoever.

Map showing percentage of who complete primary school education in Sudan, source: Sudan household health survey 2006

Throughout the two Sudans, access to primary school education is strongly linked to household earnings. In the poorest parts of the south, less than 1% of children finish primary school. Whereas in the wealthier north, up to 50% of children complete primary level education.

Map showing percentage of households with poor food consumption in Sudan, source: Sudan household health survey 2006

Conflict and poverty are the main causes of food insecurity in both countries. In Sudan, many of the residents of war-affected Darfur and the border states of Blue Nile and South Kordofan, depend on food aid. The UN said about 2.8m people in South Sudan would require food aid in 2013. The northern states tend to be wealthier, more urbanised and less reliant on agriculture.